The Free Culture movement made an auspicious entrance into Rebekah Baglinis life. The Bryn Mawr student says that she learned about the open source and free software movements in an introductory computer science class. Then, while surfing the Web to learn more about these issues, she came across an announcement for a lecture to be given at Swarthmore College by Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law professor and author of the influential book, Free Culture.
The philosophies of the free/open source software movement really coincided with the way I'd always thought about the nature of intellectual evolution and advancement, Baglini wrote by e-mail, explaining why she embraced the movement wholeheartedly. The free culture movement is about taking advantage of the unprecedented opportunities we have today to learn, create, share, communicate, and progress culturally and intellectually. Technology offers us these opportunities, but we're finding that the law limits technology, sometimes in very negative ways.
What exactly are those negative ways? Well, Baglini, and the rest of what is now the core team of activists who came together to launch FreeCulture.org, after attending Lessigs lecture, have plenty of examples. Perhaps the most obvious ones can be seen daily in the battle over file-sharing and music ownership.
In their online manifesto, the group singles out both the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and the proposed Induce Act, which will make punish technology companies for making any device that might "induce" or encourage buyers to make illegal copies of songs, movies or computer programs.
Another example Free Culture activists mention is the effort by Microsoft and others looking to create hardware-level monitoring devices that will prevent users from having control of their own machines and their own data. In other words many things from images to sounds to language – that can still be collected and downloaded (regardless of whether its technically legal) may soon become inaccessible to even the most tech-savvy users.
These are just a few reasons why today – a year and a half after Lessigs notorious speech these students are at the helm of a growing movement. Thanks to their primarily Internet-based organizing, Free Culture boasts chapters on 14 campuses, including Yale, Columbia, NYU and the University of Michigan. Their shared beliefs revolve around protecting the digital commons or an online world of art and culture that belongs to everyone and can be owned by no one. Free Culture advocates also tend to believe that todays copyright laws were designed for the analog world, (i.e. the world before the Internet), and that corporations are now desperately using them to ensure they continue to profit off the digital age.
Although the Free Culture Movement is relatively new, FreeCulture.org co-founder and Swarthmore junior Nelson Pavlosky says hes been working on these issues for years. Pavlosky and his friend Luke Smith are perhaps better known for now, anyway as the students who won a case against Diebold last year. The international corporation sent Swarthmore a cease-and-desist order when the two published some of the companys e-mails on their university-hosted Web site. Pavlosky and Smith fought back, refusing to settle out of court because they felt that Diebold was illegally using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A California district court judge agreed, and their point was made.
Diebold wanted the e-mails removed from the Web because they suggested that the company knew about flaws in their electronic voting machines before the 2000 presidential election fiasco. But Pavlosky says that Americas voting system, while obviously an important issue, was never he and Smiths main concern. (They had already founded the Swarthmore Coalition for the Digital Commons.) The pair was much more focused on the misuse of copyright law that the cease-and-desist order relied on, and the chilling effect this type of action has on our culture.
Theyre using technology and the law to suppress creativity, Pavlosky alleges. He feels this type of abuse has led to Americas increasingly commercialized, top-down culture, which is especially troublesome for Pavlosky because, he says, we live in a time when technology is being created that could open up cultural access on an unprecedented level. There truly is much at stake, Pavlosky argues. Using a favorite metaphor, he quips, The buggy manufacturers are trying to outgun cars, ya know?
The real task involved in forging a movement centered on changing copyright law and embracing the concept of the digital commons is that not everyone is aware that there is a problem. Though copyright laws impact everyones life, not many people know enough about them to realize theres any other alternative to the current laws. In that respect, the free culture movement, according to Pavlosky, is in a state much like the environmental movement in the early 60s. There was a point in time when you couldnt talk about environmentalism. It didnt exist as a word, it didnt exist as a concept, he says. There were lots of people that wanted to protect the environment, but they were hunters, bird-watchers and farmers. They didnt see how all of their interests added up to anything. Similarly, he adds: Most people dont know that the public domain exists. Some people think that copyright is forever. The industry is trying to make it that way, but thats not the way its been. And thats not the way it should be.
Copyright laws, as Pavlosky implies, have changed drastically from their original form. Whereas the original intent was to allow inventors and creators to own their ideas for a limited time because, those who wrote the original laws understood that fair use – the ability to reproduce an image and alter it, or imitate a song and be inspired to make ones own is at the basis of all creativity.
As Pravin Sathe puts it in his article, Freedom of the Internet, Today, Congress and the courts do not express this viewpoint. Rather, they are expressing the views of the major corporate interests. Since that initial constitutional clause was written, Congress has sought to extend copyright protection to an obscene number of years – life plus 70 years for individual authors and 95 years from publication for corporate authors.
Under the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (also called the Mickey Mouse Act), Mickey Mouse, created in 1928, will not be released to the public domain until well into this century. In other words, Mickey's image is the property of Walt Disney Corporation. But the push by Disney to maintain its ownership of Mickey Mouse is ironic because Mickey was based on a Buster Keaton short film titled "Steamboat Bill Jr."; a film that was part of the public domain.
Building a Movement
Until recently, the many different student activists for whom these issues resonate had no movement to join. But thats exactly what FreeCulture.org is dedicated to changing.
Pavlosky points out that books like Rachel Carsons Silent Spring (1962) were instrumental in creating a consciousness of the environment as something we all had to work together to protect. Lessigs Free Culture is probably the Silent Spring of the free culture movement. Andy Scudder, a freshman at University of Evansville in Indiana, started a chapter of the organization at his school after reading Lessigs book over the summer. Im kind of a geek with hardware and stuff. I like to be able to build my own system and do my own thing on my computer, he says. And I see with the way some companies are going, thats becoming increasingly limited.
But Free Culture isnt all about hardware or software. Since its creation, FreeCulture.org has organized various events designed to highlight the artistic possibilities of more democratic access to media and culture. The Undead Art Show, for one, was a contest open to all media. The only requirement was that all entries incorporate Night of the Living Dead, George Romeros classic horror film from 1968, which belongs to the public domain. It was really well-received, says Scudder about the free showing of Night of the Living Dead and screening of the Undead Art Show contest entries that he hosted on his campus. But I think a lot of the people who came to see it were just George Romero fans. Im not sure if they brought back a better understanding of copyright or anything about that, but it gave me a chance to show them what you can do with public domain works, and works that have fewer restrictions on them in general.
Desirina Boskovich, a creative writing student at Emory University, was led to the Free Culture movement because of her interest in the music industry and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) lawsuits. According to a recent MSNBC article, The Recording Industry Association of America has now sued more than seven thousand people for distributing its songs over "peer to peer" networks. That may not seem like very many people to some, but to Boskovich, the lawsuits and the media hype around them were enough to inspire her to open an Emory chapter of FreeCulture.org. The freedom of information is important to me, Boskovich says, especially as a writer. I want people to have access to books.
While this semester has mostly been dedicated to educating students about Free Culture issues and building a bigger core of activists, the next step for FreeCulture.org is to encourage students to contribute to the creative commons and to view the public domain as a valuable resource they can use in their own projects. Every campus chapter is being encouraged to talk to their schools library about hosting public domain materials. Next semester, Boskovich says shes hoping to tap the student musicians at Emory: There are a lot of talented musicians who go to our school, and we would like to get them to put some of their work together under the creative commons and release a CD.
While the nascent environmental movement of the early 60s faced some of the same challenges as the current Free Culture movement, Pavlosky finds theres one important difference: while environmentalists promote policies designed to have as little impact on whats left of our natural resources as possible, the free culture movement is seeking to protect a resource that doesnt even exist yet. He sums it up this way, in a blog he posted on his Web site:
Our opponents are clear-cutting the future, and the negative results will not be lost forests replaced by wastelands, but creativity that never has a chance to come into being. How do you measure the loss of something which has yet to be? [Still,] what we are battling very much resembles a loss of biodiversity ... a world in which only those who sign up with big corporations are allowed to create is very much like an environment that consists only of squirrels, sparrows, starlings and suburban lawns.
Mark Spring, an educator of ten years, helped organize the Rally for Children Left Behind. The 2004 election is not just about defending the country, its about being the country, he says, explaining one of the reasons why he and many other educators and concerned Ohio citizens held the rally at the Ohio Statehouse earlier this month. Above all, Spring says, they were motivated by the belief that public education – the backbone of democratic society – is being eroded by the No Child Left Behind Act.
All across the state of Ohio, more than 3,000 teachers have been lost under Bush, Spring attests. Thats one of the net results of No Child Left Behind. The act was passed in 2001.
One of the main goals of the act is to decrease class size, to have fewer students per teacher, Spring continues, but my question, and the question that we all had as rally speakers, was, 'How can you do that with thousands of fewer teachers?'
The answer, according to Spring, is that this promise is simply not being kept, especially in the poorer districts. As many suggested would happen, wealthier schools are doing fine under NCLB, while the poorer schools are taking a huge hit. All across the nation, teachers and parents are growing weary of the many adverse consequences that seem imminent in Bushs education system. The long-term impacts of these inequalities is one of their main concerns.
What we wanted to do with our rally, and what I think Kerry is starting to try to do, is blast through the rhetorical firewall that the Bush team has erected as a defense against the criticisms that were inevitable, says Spring.
NCLB is the hub of George W. Bushs platform on education. Interestingly, it also appears to be one of the presidents weakest points as he vies for reelection. John Kerrys job, if he is to successfully blast through Bushs rhetorical firewall on this key issue, is complex. On one hand, he and Edwards seem compelled to respond to the opportunity for reform that the No Child Left Behind Act represents by promising to make sure it has full funding. (In 2004, NCLB was under-funded by more than $26 billion. The Bush administrations 2005 budget allocates $24.9 billion to elementary and secondary education, more than $9 billion less than NCLB authorizes.) On the other hand, though, it might make more sense at this point to drop Bushs Orwellian rhetoric completely and make it entirely clear that Kerry and Edwards offer a responsible and viable alternative for Americas educational system.
Essentially, NCLB requires every state to implement standardized testing, or, to use Bushs preferred term, assessments, which has had a drastic effect on not just schools budgets, but their cultures as well. All students in grades K through 12 are to be tested at regular intervals throughout their elementary and secondary educational career. NCLB also goes a step further, however, and extends the concept of assessments to schools themselves, which the Bush platform persistently euphemizes as demanding accountability. This means that schools can now also fail. And since NCLB demands accountability in exchange for the record levels of federal spending now going to K-12 public education, it follows that any school that fails its assessment will have its funds cut. But perhaps the worst consequence is that any curriculum which doesnt produce direct results in the assessments mandated by NCLB is now seen as trivial. Schools with little funding for programs in non-core academics are slashing spending on arts and physical education classes even further, in order to focus on the preparation for and administration of tests that are mandated but not fully funded at the federal level. In short, NCLB contributes to a de facto monoculture, as schools are forced to commit a majority of their resources to militant preparation for their many assessments.
What happens to students whose schools fail? Under NCLB, vouchers would be made available to students who test well. But the money for these vouchers comes from the tax money that would have gone to the public school system. So the Bush administration is actually channeling federal funds away from public schools and into private educational institutions. And these vouchers arent offered in the interest of fairness, either: Bushs voucher system will disproportionately punish children from poor families, since federal vouchers arent likely to be enough to cover all of the costs of private schooling, and children from poor families who live in poor communities are the most likely to go to a school that cant meet their educational needs.
This flatly contradicts the rhetoric of leaving no child behind. Which begs the question: Does the Bush administration simply have other priorities, or is there another agenda behind these reforms? It seems eminently possible that conservatives like those in the Bush administration actually want to shape American education to reflect their values. When examined closely, NCLB can be seen as an effort to privatize education and get far more students attending private and religious schools where theyre more likely to be taught conservative values. In any case, the act certainly tends to make our educational system reflect the disparity of the distribution of wealth in our society. The cause of these effects is not merely negligence, but the conservative view of education as a primary means for disciplining children (and the schools they go to) through shame and punishment. (Bushs education secretary, Rod Paige, has actually called shame the strongest weapon for reform. He also once called a union representing elementary and secondary school teachers a terrorist organization, but thats another story. Or is it?) This is why the monoculture promoted by NCLB-mandated assessments is no unforeseen accident: it is designed to deprive poor communities of the means for providing their future citizens with rich, meaningful educations. In the conservative world view, this is just tough love.
Solutions for problems of No Child Left Behind are offered by one Kerry campaign press release. The challenging candidate has delivered a promise to ensure that No Child Left Behind works for schools, states, and teachers by rewarding those who meet higher standards and rewarding schools that turn around and improve in stump speeches. While it might be too late to divorce himself from Bushs language completely, John Kerrys vision for Americas education system is based on an entirely different set of values. His education plan for America is built on sustainable ideals aimed at expanding public education and providing the highest standards possible for cultivating Americas younger generation. Notice, for instance, that even while using the phrase No Child Left Behind, Kerrys platform concentrates on rewarding schools and students for their successes, as opposed to punishing them for their shortcomings. Accordingly, rather than cut funding from schools that dont perform at accountable levels, Kerry proposes to offer extra help to schools that are falling short, rather than leaving troubled students behind when he is president.
While Bush sees education as a means for teaching children discipline through punishment and fear of failure, Kerry sees education as a means for extending opportunity. The Kerry-Edwards National Education Trust Fund is a good example. This fund would be set up to ensure that new education programs authorized by Congress will be funded on a mandatory basis. Creating a fund designated solely for Americas public educational system would mean broader prosperity, since all public schools would be guaranteed resources. This is the responsible thing for a democratic government to do, and yet Bush has taxed schools with his unrealistic expectations.
Many policies and programs that Kerry proposes would help integrate Americas educational system and the communities of which they are a part. A Kerry administration would make early education available and affordable for every American child, just as the Early Learning Opportunities Act of 2000 proposed. This would provide equal access to educational resources at the most crucial time in childrens mental development, which gets kids ready for school, and in later years cuts crime and increases job productivity, as Kerry points out.
His administration will also allow the federal government to issue $24.8 billion in school modernization bonds to help states and school districts repair and build modern schools. This, coupled with the promise to recruit 500,000 teachers over the next four years, means Kerry knows how necessary it is to provide enough teachers and suitable public educational facilities to all communities.
The implementation of Kerrys Schools Open Til Six initiative would not only give students after-hours tutoring, but would also provide a safe and nurturing after-school environment. Naturally, Schools Open Til Six is also designed to help parents of students. This program would contribute directly to many Americans quality of life, in the short- as well as long-term. Schools and communities should work together in raising our young; Kerry understands that and has promised to provide for that need when he is president.
Kerrys success on Nov. 2 depends on whether or not he can demonstrate to voters that he is truly committed to these principles and not merely crafting rhetoric. Bushs recordespecially on educationspeaks for itself.NCLB has created havoc in communities all across America, manifesting in the phenomenon of "excellent failures": schools that perform at the top of their state's standards but are deemed failures according to the federal standards handed down in NCLB. We can't predict the consequences such confusion and mistrust will have on the future of education, but we can choose this November to reinvest in our public schools and control the damage.
Mark Spring doubts that NCLB, and the way it has been implemented by the Bush administration, will provide for a democratic education. He doesnt believe it guides young people to be what we all have a right to be: adequately equipped citizens of the U.S. We [the organizers of Rally for Children Left Behind] dont believe that shame is the best way to motivate people, he says. A challenge which is what the No Child Left Behind Act is and should be a challenge shouldnt feel like a threat. It should feel like a shared opportunity.
His ease of manner is remarkable because Norman is a self-identified neo-conservative on one of the most notoriously liberal campuses in the nation. He is a member of the Berkeley chapter of the California College Republicans and was managing editor of the right-wing California Patriot for the 2002-03 school year. It was only a few days from graduation when we spoke; Normans post-graduate plans included starting up Moxy, which will serve as the state-wide publication of the California College Republicans, and joining the Army, because he wants to help in the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
As if thats not enough to set him apart from the majority of students on this campus, he is in the midst of expounding his view that he and Berkeleys other conservative activists represent the new free speech movement; the old movement (the one that gave this café its name) was set off in 1964 when the universitys administration banned information and registration tables from one of the main campus crossroads, at Bancroft and Telegraph, in a naked attempt to curb political expression it saw as divisive.
There are plaques on one wall of the Free Speech Café commemorating the movement. One bears a photograph of its lean, hipsterish-looking leader above a dreamy quote about free speech being that which marks us off from the stones and the stars as just below the angels.
It is bold indeed -- in a time when a conservative U.S. president is projecting Americas military power ever-more extensively across the globe in what some see as an attempt to protect the world from the enemies of the free (free to them, not to us) market -- for conservative students to claim they constitute a new free speech movement. Certainly it is inexcusable for anyone to get spit on, and it is never right to destroy something a group of people have dedicated much of themselves to producing just because you dont agree with what theyre hoping to achieve with that product. I think anyone would agree that the responsible students should be punished. But is there really a stiflingly liberal atmosphere on most American college campuses, as conservative students claim? Has the political balance truly shifted so much in the past 40 years that conservatives can rightly claim to be the radical protectors of free speech?
This campus, which prides itself on being the vanguard of free speech, is actually one of the most intolerant places Ive ever been, says Norman. If you want to be a Green Party member, be a Green Party member. But you gotta let me be a Republican. And they dont do that here.
Norman wears this alleged persecution as a badge of honor, and comes across as proud to stand decisively for what he believes in. He sees the left as so divided it often bogs itself down with internal dispute. He claims there is a trend toward conservatism amongst the common man today -- at least partly due to the fact that Democrats havent created a strong platform based on morals -- and hes glad to lend an unequivocal hand in shaping that trend.
College Republicans once hosted an Affirmative Action Bake Sale, which charged for its goods on a sliding scale: 25 cents if youre Asian, 50 cents if youre black, a dollar if youre white.
Employing such tactics seems to be a calculated strategy for overcoming the fact that conservatives are massively outnumbered on Berkeleys campus. But this nation-wide movement is a response to more than just the fact that conservatives are often in the campus minority: The impetus for many students who identify with conservative values and are publishing or writing for alternative newspapers and magazines seems to be a genuine dissatisfaction with the campus environment and the schools curriculum.
Whereas Savio was backed only by his fellow student activists in his stand against officially-sanctioned oppression, however, there is a large network of well-entrenched, well-funded, national foundations and organizations sponsoring publications like the Patriot, which raises every penny for each of its $3500 press-runs without resorting to university funds.
Because the current neo-conservative movement's power base isn't built exclusively on grassroots activism, it seems their appeal as a subversive, countercultural movement might be inherently limited. It would be unfair to characterize this as a top-down movement, but it is originating from somewhere much nearer the top than did the Free Speech Movement of the 60s.
These publications, in my view, arose out of students saying, Hey, we want conservative value development in the academy, says Bryan Auchterlonie of Collegiate Network, Inc.
The Collegiate Network (CN) is a program administered by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), which was founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., author of "God And Man At Yale." Auchterlonie says that CN is devoted to helping students on campus, especially those interested in journalism, be it through training, financial subsidies to their newspapers, assistance with public relations on campus, or editing stories if they need it. The CN disperses around $200,000 in operating grants every year to 55 of its 80 member-publications (the other 25 make enough from other sources to go without CN funds). They also help bring conservative speakers to campuses, provide training seminars, and host an annual editors conference in Washington, D.C. (all expenses paid).
The CN and ISI are just two of the many groups that provide such services: the Leadership Institute, Young Americas Foundation, and Young Americans for Freedom are a few other organizations ready and willing to aid campus conservatives. 50 years after Buckley founded ISI with the express purpose of fostering conservatism on college campuses, a new type of conservative student activist is emerging, and they arent just writing their own columns. Theyre also not the bow-tie and penny loafers, boys-only crowd any more, either, according to Auchterlonie, who says that its just as important for conservatives to use leftist strategies a little better as it is that they loosen up and not take themselves too seriously.
Seth Norman says that at least half of the Berkeley College Republicans are women (including the president and vice-president of the club for the current academic year). He says that there are Asian members, as well, though Asian students are perhaps not as large a percentage of the club as they are of the student body. We do only have two black members, and a few Latino members, he admits. And though hes quick to point out that the Log Cabin Republicans are donors to the Patriot, he also says that there were no openly gay members of the club or the publications staff last year. Depending on the spin you want to put on it, this could be indicative either of the still-nascent stage of the movement, or a lack of truly broad appeal.
A new type of conservative student activist is emerging, and they arent just writing their own columns. Theyre also not the bow-tie and penny loafers, boys-only crowd any more.
Nonetheless, Auchterlonie roundly disputes the suggestion that CN is programming students: Trying to give students a talking line or tactic is like herding cats. These kids, theyre independent kids, theyre not going to listen to everything you tell them. They should use the rhetoric of the Left, or mainstream rhetoric thats politically correct, to [express] their interests, because it sells better. He also says that CN, for their part, never goes out and tries to recruit students to start papers.
Perhaps this is a genuine movement that has grown out of a genuine trend toward conservatism among todays students. Or perhaps it is a well-conceived method for indoctrinating students in conservative ideals while theyre young and naturally inclined to rebellion, a method devised by conservatives who were dismayed at a growing trend toward progressivism in our nations student body. Depending on which side you ask, both of these statements are presented as truth.
It seems, though, that it is most likely a little of both, which might seem to mitigate the severity of the threat this movement imposes to the advancement of progressive ideals, except for one thing: President Bush has already signaled his intention to develop a strong grassroots component for his 2004 reelection campaign. While Howard Dean has made some impressive moves, the Democratic field as a whole has not forged a durable link with students; that, coupled with the well-funded network of conservative campus publications employing all the strategies that typically endear students to liberal causes and candidates, is more than enough cause for alarm.
Wilson knows what hes talking about; hes been working, in one capacity or another, for campus publications since 1989, when he started writing a column for the Daily Illini as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. He feels that the media have often been relegated to an afterthought by the left, where the emphasis has always been on activism. People [on the left] know how to manipulate the media, he says, but they dont necessarily become the media. And thats an unfortunate decision.
Its unfortunate because campus journalism -- alternative publications in particular -- can serve as a farm-league for the professional media. And if thats the case, conservatives are way ahead of liberals in cultivating the talent in their farm-league, not to mention helping graduating students find a spot in the big leagues.
Not only that, but in far too many cases conservatives are framing the debate about campus media. At many colleges, there is now a mainstream paper and a right-wing paper, and too many students come to think of that as the left and the right. Seth Norman, for example, describes the Daily Californian, Berkeleys official student newspaper, as "a liberal paper.
The result is that the real voice of the left is never heard by most students. The mainstream newspapers are run according to traditional journalistic values of objectivity, theres very little investigative journalism, or opinion, or muckraking, Wilson says. From the view of a left-wing press, I think of mainstream publications as very conservative. Its not conservative in the sense that these right-wingers are, but its a kind of conservatism.
Couple with this lack of a truly progressive voice the fact that conservative publications are much better at publicizing censorship of their papers, and you begin to see how conservatives have been able to cast themselves as the little guy up against the leftist establishment. Free newspapers are always going to be vulnerable to theft, whether they espouse the ideology of the left or the right. Judging by his own experience, Wilson says that this is really a universal problem for papers that are opinionated and piss people off. The reason you hear it more about right-wing papers is that they publicize it better and theyve been better at starting up these newspapers. When the Indy did an issue with Impeach Bush on the cover, we had copies stolen, and ripped up. I ran into one guy who was throwing away our papers, and he claimed he was exercising his right to free speech.
(The Lack of) Voices from the Left
Wilson's website, CollegeFreedom.org, provides a lot of valuable resources for progressive student journalists; it is also the venue for the publication of Wilson's annual Report on Academic Freedom, which covers many cases in which liberal or progressive papers, students, and organizations were censored. For instance, last year, the conservative administration of Stetson College shut The Reporter down because it was displeased with the papers April Fools issue. Wilson even remembers a time when this happened at Berkeley, after conservatives took over the student government and proceeded to de-fund the Diatribe, a progressive newspaper.
The lack of a well-articulated opposing viewpoint clears the way for conservatives to define many campus issues in their favor. I think its really been a big mistake -- ignoring college publications -- that the left has made. They really need to start creating campus newspapers, Wilson says. Without fostering college publications, the left isnt doing all it could to reach out to students at a time when they are developing opinions and habits that may stay with them the rest of their lives. Wilson asserts that progressive student publications should also be seen as vital because If you dont have college students reading these kinds of papers, theyre not going to want to read the national publications like The Nation or Harpers after college.
Without cultivating writers, thinkers, and readers in college, the left risks ignoring the large numbers of independent voters on campuses and thereby hurting its chances to defeat Bush in 2004, not to mention limiting the appeal of progressivism to future generations. It also risks letting conservatives be seen as the irreverent faction that is questioning authority on campus, where many students are eager to challenge the status quo.
There are organizations that recognize campus newspapers as essential to creating that vast left-wing conspiracy, and are working on behalf of student publications. The Campus Alternative Journalism Project (CAJP), for example, is a national network of over 80 progressive campus publications in the US, founded to serve the thousands of students who are making social change through alternative media, according to their website. Though they dont have the kind of money that organizations like CN have, they do provide training and other types of support to grassroots college papers, which helps these papers share resources and expertise, combine forces to increase their leverage, and promote their work to a larger audience.
Some progressive publications have been trying to build networks and increase their leverage even without the help of organizations like the CAJP. Harboiled , a progressive voice for Asian Americans on the Berkeley campus, according to story editor Dharushana Muthulingam, teamed up with three other publications, each representing a distinct ethnic group, to produce a magazine called X. I think because were so multicultural here, we should know about all of our issues. We lose sight of the idea that our issues are relevant to everyone, and theres that sense that, This papers for you guys, this one is for us, Muthulingam explains.
The left is so diffuse, she continues. Thats something I personally am involved with, as an editor: How do I link up issues of multiculturalism with environmentalism? Gay rights?
Of course, another of her chief concerns is funding. Hardboiled receives university funds, as well as grants from the Chancellors Fund and the Ethics Department at Berkeley. Two or three years ago we were comfortable, Muthulingam says, comparing that situation with today, when budgets are being slashed across the state -- and Hardboiled is feeling the pinch, too. By contrast, she hasnt noticed a similar problem plaguing her colleagues who identify with the other side of the political spectrum. The right has money, and theyve got their act together, she says. I dont think thats something the left cant do, inherently, but I would like to see some movement towards that. I have a friend who works for the Patriot, and they never have problems with funding.
Muthulingam and her colleagues have felt frustrated in the past by the Patriots allegations that the Daily Cal is the voice of the left-wing "orthodoxy" because of the implicit claim that is also being made: that only the conservative voice is not fully represented in the mainstream. Still, Muthulingam says that she doesnt like to see the debate sink to the level of Affirmative Action Bake Sales. [It] didnt really bring any dialogue on the issues. As an editor, I try to get to the meat of things, rather than pull these stunts. Its really frustrating, and it really unnecessarily diverts energy. I would like to move beyond those things.
Michael Gaworecki is a graduate student at San José State University. He welcomes any progressive publications and/or organizations supporting progressive publications that feel they should have been included in this article to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a regular contributor to WireTap.
Eric and his group stood in the middle of Dwinelle Plaza on University of California, Berkeley campus. It was a clear, warm day in the middle of mid-term week, and there were many people hanging around the plaza. There was a between-class languor about most of them; some were studying, some just relaxing in the sun.
The exception to this general repose was Eric and the rest of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition. They were there to incite a student strike. Aside from planning what to do should the university try and stop them from assembling, they were busy making signs, some urging other students to join the strike happening at noon, others with slogans like "Military power does not lead to security, it leads to death." Some of the Stop the War Coalition people had foregone the use of signs and were simply standing amidst the human traffic shouting, "Oppose the war! Strike at noon!"
Soon enough the designated hour arrived. About 150 students were assembled in the plaza. Some claimed to have ditched their high school or middle school to be on Berkeley's campus to show their opposition to the war. Eerily enough, the university chose to test its emergency broadcast system on that day, so as various speakers began to extol the crowd, an air-raid siren was going off in the background.
"I'm supporting our troops, I want to see them brought home," one speaker yelled. "Peace is patriotic!"
Another speaker grabbed the bullhorn and announced that the entire student body of Fremont High had walked out. The crowd erupted.
But glancing around Dwinelle Plaza, it was apparent that the anti-war protesters were something of an insulated community, even among Berkeley's notoriously liberal student body. Many of the people who were lounging before are still lounging as the strike began to broil.
"I have two mid-terms and a paper to write this week," one girl explained.
"This is ridiculous, what do they think they're accomplishing? Maybe they get a little media attention," another student yelled into his cell phone as he rushed by the crowd.
The strikers began to march about campus, in and out of buildings, shouting chants like "We want peace on foreign soil, no blood for oil!" They were followed by a small contingent of police, who did absolutely nothing to interfere with the strike. The police could have been just another part of the landscape, along with the many students who weren't participating in the strike. While the strikers were hard to ignore, many of their fellow students seem to regard them as little more than a passing curiosity.
Unfortunately, this scene may be indicative of the U.S. population as a whole. While many people march, protest, and shout, far too many more Americans seem content to be spectators, leaving the protesting and the warmongering to someone else. But it is the apparent apathy of the Bush Administration that caused the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC) to organize March 5, 2003 as a one-day, national student strike.
"The Bush administration is intent on plunging America into an illegitimate and pre-emptive war in Iraq that will only increase danger for Americans and the world. At the same time education, healthcare, and the economy are being neglected. It's time for youth and students to take a stand for America's future!" proclaims the NYSPC website.
The NYSPC was formed following September 11, and is comprised of fifteen student organizations united in their opposition to a military response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Part of the NYSPC's mission statement reads: "We are opposed to an open-ended war on terrorism. We call for the U.S. to address the root causes of the conflict, we see the U.S. policy in the Middle East as one of those root causes. We seek lasting peace at home but in order to achieve it we must have justice abroad."
The coalition called this day of student strikes "Books Not Bombs" to highlight their message that the increasing amounts of money the U.S. is spending on its military means less money goes to our educational system. Some 350 high schools and universities around the nation participated.
According to the NYSPC site, the coalition was only calling for a one-day strike because the target is the Bush Administration and not the universities themselves. Hoping that radio and TV networks like NPR and the BBC will run stories about the nation-wide strike, the coalition's main objective seems to be the destruction of the idea that Bush has the support of the American people.
Though many polls have shown that a majority of Americans do, in fact, support Bush, the NYSPC can still feel justified in claiming that this war effort is not supported by the people: its member organizations include millions of students. That places the coalition at the very forefront of the burgeoning youth peace movement, a movement that might yet grow to encompass a majority of Americans.
Several of the protesters at Berkeley, like freshman Chelsea Collonge, were eager to find more effective ways to voice their opposition to the war. Chelsea felt that strikes were a necessary tactic because, as she explained, "[a protest] makes more of an impact if you disrupt the institutions of society." Given how much research is conducted at U.S. universities on behalf of the federal government, student strikes might prove to be one of the most prudent places to start a national strike against the war.
Eric, a senior political science major, saw this national student strike as a logical next step. He said that anti-war protests must continue to grow in size and severity in order to maintain pressure on the Bush Administration to rethink its agenda. "Rallies and marches, no matter how big they are, Bush has likened to a focus group. If we build a national strike, where large sectors of the economy shut down, it's gonna wreak havoc. Things need to get shut down for Bush to see it; if it doesn't hit his corporate buddies, it doesn't hit him at all, unfortunately. So we gotta start hitting him where it hurts, and unfortunately it looks like that's his friends and his pocketbook."
Mike Gaworecki, 24, is a reporter and guest editor at WireTap.
"What's this?" I asked my mom, who was sitting at the table paying bills. It was really a rhetorical question; I knew what it was. I just hadn't expected being confronted with it on that very occasion.
"It signs you up for the draft. All boys get one when they turn eighteen," Mom explained.
"What if I don't want to sign it, what happens then?" I asked defiantly.
"Nothing, really. Except you can't get any student loans from the government."
"What? The land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy," I mumbled.
"What did you say?" my dad growled, entering the room.
"It's just lyrics from that band," my mom said. She gave my dad a look, waved her hand dismissively, and returned to the bills. (I had made Rage Against the Machine well-known throughout the house, but especially to my mother.)
"Just why do you think you have any freedoms at all, Son?" my dad bristled, obviously angry.
Now, my dad is not the type of man one should anger intentionally. He is burly and quick to anger (at least he was back then). His voice alone, when he raised it, sounded as if it could beat you senseless. And he was raising it then.
My dad was seventeen years old when the war in Vietnam ended, meaning he missed the draft by a year. Many of his friends, however, were not so lucky. I knew that at the time, too: I had been with him once when he visited the Vietnam memorial in Washington D.C. He searched out many names, then just stood there with his hand on the wall, over his friends' names as if he were leaning on them for support.
Recalling that day, I decided this was one battle I would never win. I signed the card, and am now happily sitting on the other side of a bachelor's degree -- paid for with federal loans.
A New Draft?
The last draft was deactivated at the close of U.S. involvement in Vietnam in 1973. Draft registration was ceased altogether in 1975, but resumed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 as a response to the growing Soviet threat. Since then, however, signing those registration cards has largely been a symbolic act for America's young men. But a bill proposed in the House of Representatives last January could make that one signature a life or death choice for all of today's youth.
If passed, the Universal National Service Act of 2003, introduced by House Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY), would require two years of military or civilian national service for all Americans between the ages of 18 and 26 -- both male and female. No exemptions are to be given, according to the bill, for college students.
Rep. Rangel says he drafted the bill to spark debate about the true costs of a preemptive strike against Iraq. "We're talking about war," Rangel said in an interview, "but we're really not discussing sacrifice." Rangel also says he wanted to ensure that the burdens of this conflict will be borne by all Americans regardless of their socioeconomic status, because this hasn't been the case when the U.S. has gone to war in the past.
A staunch opponent of war in Iraq, Rangel also feels that if U.S. legislators' children stand to be drafted and sent to the front lines, perhaps no war will happen in the first place. "I truly believe that those who make the decision and those who support the United States going into war would feel more readily the pain that's involved, the sacrifice that's involved, if they thought that the fighting force would include the affluent and those who historically have avoided this great responsibility," he says.
The bill has virtually no chance of being passed -- President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld both quickly announced their opposition to a new draft. Rumsfeld is quoted in an Associated Press report as saying: "We're not going to re-implement a draft. There is no need for it at all. The disadvantages of using compulsion to bring into the armed forces men and women needed are notable."
But this won't mean the bill is a failure. As long as it sparks the debate it is intended to, and makes people consider more heavily the costs of war, it might yet be a success. Given that youth and students arguably have the most at stake should the draft be reinstated, theirs should be the loudest voices in the debate. With that in mind, I spoke with students, read campus newspapers from around the country, and found students' responses to this issue both impassioned and thoughtful.
The Debate Hits Campus
Adam Kirby, a senior at Marquette University and editor of the Marquette Tribune, doesn't believe in the principle of conscription, but says he thinks that it is sometimes necessary. Regrettably, he explains, "we live in a world where people like to kill each other."
A certain uneasiness seems to prevail among college students when the draft is brought up. Though mostly against the draft, many students don't seem inclined to dodge it, either.
When asked if he would go to war should he be drafted, Adam says, "I think I would try to get away with a civil deployment. I'm not necessarily a pacifist, but I do believe that you better have damn good reasons for going to war, and I don't think we have them right now." He cites the uncertainty of the situation with North Korea -- which has openly declared the resumption of its nuclear program -- as one reason he is opposed to a war in Iraq. But the lack of any clear and discernible threat from Iraq itself seems to weigh heavily with him as well.
"If even the highest military officials think the draft is a bad idea, why force people to register with the Selective Service in the first place?"
But not all students are against the draft at all. A junior at Iowa State University told a reporter for Iowa State Daily that he would like to see the draft reinstated. A member of the Army ROTC, this student says that although the draft might make the military weaker in the short-term, he believes that over time it would actually strengthen our ability to wage war.
The Daily Princetonian quotes one student as saying he thinks national service "is one of the few ways that races, ethnic groups and classes can be mixed." The article also says the president from both the College Republican and the College Democrat organizations have "pledged to support the armed services and serve if called up in a draft."
Still, College Democrats president Owen Conroy is quoted as saying, "I don't enjoy the idea that I could be called on to fight in a war, especially one with questionable motives or goals."
A "glaring example of state-sanctioned sexual discrimination"
According to Maggie Koerth, a student at the University of Kansas, a draft that includes both men and women could help end another battle: the fight for women's equality. In an opinion piece for her school's newspaper, the University Daily Kansan, Maggie calls the draft as it stands now "one of the most glaring examples of state-sanctioned sexual discrimination in our country."
She goes on to write: "I am not asking women to believe the draft is a good thing. I am not asking them to want to fight and die. What I am telling women is that we cannot pick and choose what equalities we want." In an interview, Maggie acknowledges that the draft is a complex issue, but says that inclusion in it is also a necessary component of self-determination. "When a draft comes up, men have to make their own decisions about whether or not they will obey it. The same should be true for women," she says.
Rep. Rangel's proposed bill would guarantee women equal representation in the draft, so perhaps, should it be passed, the adjustments it makes to the draft system could help heal some of the inequities in the demography of the American military. But not everyone feels that the bill is a good idea, no matter what the intentions behind its creation were.
Maggie simply distrusts the notion that Senators' or Congressmens' children will ever be drafted. When asked about Rangel's bill, she says she doesn't believe it would deter lawmakers from allowing this war to happen because their kids would not be in harm's way. She seems certain that there are loopholes to be exploited, claiming, "The draft is not going to affect these people."
Writing in her school newspaper, The Daily Lobo, University of New Mexico senior Sari Krosinski says she objects to Rep. Rangel's bill precisely because it seeks to extend the reach of the draft. "I don't object to women being subject to the same expectations as men," she explains. "I object to anyone being forced to register with the Selective Service, period." Sari notes that Richard Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has gone on record as saying that conscription is unnecessary because the military is more efficient and effective with an all-volunteer force. In fact, she points out that a bill has been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services calling for the repeal of the Military Selective Service Act, which created the draft. She asks, "If even the highest military officials think the draft is a bad idea, why force people to register with the Selective Service in the first place?"
Sari criticizes Rangel's bill because most of the details involved in the implementation of the draft will be left to the president's discretion (such as determining grounds for early termination of service, what to do with conscientious objectors, and how many people are called up for service). "Since the president could simply choose not to draft anyone even if the bill is passed, the whole point of the Act -- assuming Rangel is serious -- could be a moot point."
All in all, most students seem cautious but determined to do whatever is right. They understand that they are expected to do their part to uphold our way of life, and they are willing to do that, but they remain unconvinced that Iraq is a threat and are weary of being pawns in an unjust war.
Summing up her thoughts on the possibility of a new draft to support a war in Iraq, Sari writes, "If I were actually necessary to the defense of this country I would make no objection to losing my privileged status as a woman and a college student. But even those who have volunteered for military service don't deserve to have their lives wasted in any war that is neither wise nor necessary."
Michael Gaworecki, 24, is a writer and guest editor at WireTap. He lives in San Francisco, and hopes to some day take a bike trip up the West Coast, perhaps as far as Canada.
It may look like a simple log cabin set against a wooded hillside, but the EcoDorm being built at Warren Wilson College is on the cutting edge of a new movement to make universities friendlier to the environment. And in most cases it is the pupils, not the teachers, who are paving the way.
Along with other students at Warren Wilson, Olja Milenkaya, an environmental studies major, felt that there was an incongruity between the concepts she was learning in classes -- including conservation and sustainable development -- and the way her university actually functioned. "We are at an educational institution and learning about the environment, yet not able to live the values that we are developing," she says. Last year, she and a few others began working with their college administrators to design a new dormitory that would use natural resources such as sunlight, shade, and breezes more efficiently while implementing eco-friendly technologies like photovoltaic panels for electricity and solar space and water heating. According to Olja, the EcoDorm is a great opportunity for her, and the thirty-five other students that will be living there when it opens next fall, to "live out those values more fully."
Warren Wilson is one of many schools across the nation that have begun experimenting with renewable energy sources and energy-efficient building materials in their own facilities. Because universities are among the biggest energy users in the world, college and university campuses could save a lot of money by finding alternative means of generating their energy, while producing a lot less waste and pollution at the same time. In doing so, universities can become catalysts in their local -- and even global -- communities by demonstrating the benefits of sustainable development.
The positive effects could be far-reaching. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's website: "If only 10 percent of homes in the U.S. used solar water-heating systems, we would avoid 8.4 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year."
"If only 10 percent of homes in the U.S. used solar water-heating systems, we would avoid 8.4 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year."
While environmental concerns are paramount to students like Olja, however, economics play a much larger role in administrators' decisions to implement sustainable development plans on their campuses. "If you look at it up front," she explains, "some of the materials are more expensive. If you look at it through the life-span of the building, it will prove to be way more inexpensive, because of how much energy and water you save."
Max Harper, a junior at Colorado College, is spearheading a similar push for sustainable housing at his school. Last year he and several other students operated a sustainable living theme house; activities at the house included, among other things, replacing individual refrigerators with more energy-efficient models and converting many lights to use compact fluorescent bulbs. The result was that the house's energy consumption was reduced by 33 percent compared with the previous year, according to Max.
Largely due to the success of the theme house, this year the college approved a proposal put together by Max and other students and has granted them use of a 6- to 10-bed house that will be retrofitted with environmentally friendly features. Although the administration supports sustainable development in theory, it certainly has its own vested interest in the results.
Max says that Colorado College's business office, along with the departments of residential life, facilities, environmental sciences, and economics are all interested in being a part of the project. "Facilities is very interested," he explains, "because they would like to use the building as a test site for campus-wide implementation of something like a composting toilet, different light bulbs, or different kinds of insulation."
While Colorado College's administration aims to use the house as a test site, Max and the other students that will be living there hope to demonstrate the viability of sustainable housing to their fellow students. In this way, the house will be used as an educational model. For example, Max says it will have a window through its interior wall to show the insulation; a sign will explain to passers-by what the insulation is made of (probably, in this case, recycled jeans) and why it is more efficient -- as well as Earth-friendly -- than typical insulation. "There's a lot to be said for living in a natural house," he says. "It's a pretty serene setting, like a sanctuary. It's not a box leaking energy everywhere. It has a really wholesome feel."
"There's a lot to be said for living in a natural house. It's a pretty serene setting, like a sanctuary. It's not a box leaking energy everywhere. It has a really wholesome feel."
Being a center for promoting awareness about sustainable housing concepts and materials is a common feature among projects of this kind. That's also the case at Humboldt State University's Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. Known as CCAT (pronounced "See Cat"), the house has experimented with a host of inventive technologies since its inception in the '70s.
There's a bike-generated TV and blender, as well as the Human Energy Converter, which is seven bikes hooked up to a generator that can be used to power an entire stage during a live music performance. There's also a greenhouse built onto the side of the house, from which the residents get many vegetables, as well as heat, thanks to windows that open into the house's living room. All waste-water is recycled as "gray water" for use in the greenhouse and garden -- which, in turn, end up providing the residents of the CCAT house with a substantial portion of their diet.
For electricity, the CCAT house currently uses what's called a grid inter-type system. "Right now we have our solar panels on the roof producing electricity, and when it's sunny out it just goes through our house, into the grid, and spins our meter backward," says Jared Zyskowski, a senior majoring in biology and a resident of the CCAT house.
That means that the CCAT house is actually giving PG&E energy most of the time, not the other way around. According to Jared, this also means that in addition to producing most of the house's electricity by sustainable, non-polluting means, there are no electricity bills to pay -- at least, Jared hasn't had to pay one since he moved in to the house last December.
Ultimately, the goal of the CCAT house is not just to develop the most efficient technologies, but to demonstrate their efficacy as well. Jared says: "We find the things that work well, and are easy for people to do. And we promote those things for people who are living in apartments, living in dorms, who are scraping by on money and are hoping to both limit their impact on the Earth and maybe to try and limit their energy or garbage bills."
Brad Tito says he also had an educational mission in mind when he began construction of his own house while in his junior year at Prescott College, in Prescott, Arizona.
Brad originally conceived of the house while he was studying sustainable development at Prescott. A project he did for a class turned into the plans for the house, called Mercury House. It features solar panels used to generate electricity, passive solar space heating, solar water heating, and a water catchment system (which collects and filters rain-water for household use). Brad built the house in 1998 with the help of local contractors and craftsmen, using sustainably harvested and local "leftover" lumber, as well as cast earth and straw bale structural elements.
The home even has a wetlands environment constructed in the backyard that treats all of the house's outgoing sewage through a completely natural process. Brad built it to mimic the old growth forests he admired while hiking and backpacking as a kid. "Ecosystems that are left untouched function in miraculous ways," he says, "and they don't produce waste."
According to Brad, all of these amenities are intended to make Mercury House a "life-affirming" place to live as much as to demonstrate what sustainable building is capable of. "I wanted to show people that it was possible to build a self-sufficient home, that you could live more environmentally-friendly without compromising," Brad says. "I consider it a success."
All of the energy brought in to Mercury House is backed up by the conventional systems for producing it, so Brad never has to go without. For example, he uses all of the solar-heated water first, and if this proves an insufficient amount he switches on the natural gas and conventional water heater. "You get all the creature comforts that everybody expects," he says. "But it's delivered in a much more environmentally friendly manner."
Brad says that more than a thousand people have come through Mercury House. He participated in the National Homes Tour and invited classes from Prescott and other nearby colleges to come out. His efforts to create a sustainable campus initiative at Prescott eventually led to the creation of the Crossroads project, which aims to build an ecologically-designed teaching and learning space on campus.
But even larger than that -- and indicative, perhaps, of the true potential of this -- Brad's project has made an impression on the community of Prescott, Arizona, as well. According to Brad, who graduated from Prescott College in 2000 with a degree in sustainable development, there's now a market for sustainable student housing in Prescott, and some private entrepreneurs have begun building to meet that demand.
Within this movement, collaboration certainly is the key. Just as students can't turn their goals for their campus into reality without the support of the administration, the environmental movement can't push society in a more sustainable direction without enlisting the help of society's architects. Brad says that the builder he worked with had never been involved in an "environment-oriented project," but is now committed to "green" building after his experience with Mercury House. Brad tells a similar story about the contract sales manager at the lumberyard he got most of his wood from:
"When I first met him to set up an account, he asked me if I was one of those environmental 'whackos.' There was nothing eco-friendly about this good ol' boy. Now you go into his office and there is a poster of a pristine mountain landscape. All this guy does is sell wood. Some people might think he's the enemy. To me he's one of the greatest environmental activists I know."
Michael Gaworecki is a writer who lives in San Francisco in a triangular loft that probably leaks energy everywhere.
Amir Nadav, 17, is a high school junior from Eagan, Minnesota. Concerned about his peers' exposure to harmful diesel exhaust from idling schoolbuses, Nadav headed a campaign for cleaner buses in Minnesota. By circulating petitions, rallying on the capitol steps, and personally lobbying for the bill, Nadav succeeded in passing statewide legislation that bans excessive bus idling in front of schools.
After Ethan Schaffer survived lymphoma cancer at the age of 15, he went to New Zealand to work on organic farms. Schaffer's experience abroad opened his eyes to sustainable living, which he believes is the key to good health for humans and the environment. Schaffer, now 21, established Organic Volunteers. A national program providing outreach and education for sustainability and organic food systems, Organic Volunteers has over 2000 members in 41 states.
17-year-old high school student Stefanie Lacy established the first ever paper recycling program in Bandera, Texas. The Bandera County Paper has redirected 280 tons of paper to a recycling plant in San Antonio 35 miles away. Not only has Lacy's program successfully saved 4, 600 trees by diverting Bandera's paper waste from landfills, the project has also raised almost 6,000 dollars towards The Friends of the Library of Bandera County and The Animal Welfare Society of Bandera County.
For the last three years, the Earth Island Institute (EII) has recognized youth between the ages of 13 and 22 whose work embodies the principles of conservation, preservation and restoration, for which David Ross Brower coined the term "CPR for the Earth." This year the awards, named after Brower, went to six young activists from around the country who have gone above and beyond expectations to spearhead local campaigns, start organizations, and bridge the gap between environmental and community issues.
David Ross Brower's long life of environmental activism began when he joined the Sierra Club at the age of 21. He led the fight to preserve wilderness areas throughout the US and abroad and founded several organizations aimed at promoting environmental and social justice before his death in 2000 at the age of 88. Since then, the Earth Island Institute, which Mr. Brower founded in 1982, has sought to carry on his legacy by supporting young leaders taking action.
This year, in addition to receiving a cash award, the winning six spent several days in Yosemite National Park, and attended an awards ceremony in Berkeley, Calif. WireTap tracked down three of this year's winners and spoke with them about what it took to get their projects off the ground, the challenges facing youth activists today, and what they have set their sights on for the future.
WireTap:Did you grow up in a household where environmental issues were important? Is your high school environmentally conscious?
Nadav: My high school isn't particularly environmentally conscious. Environmentalism and the like were never really a big thing in my household either. My mother always used to love taking us out on trips to state parks. I think those trips instilled in me a sense of respect and care for nature and the environment.
Lacy: I did grow up in a household where environmental issues were important. My family and I were always recycling and doing something to help the environment. It wasn't until we moved out here to Bandera that we did not have a local recycling program. My high school was not environmentally conscious until I approached them about getting the school involved [in a recycling program.]
Schaffer: I grew up in a household where environmental issues were important in a theoretical sense. My father was very political; an unwavering Democrat. I was taught to support the ideas of environmentalism. I grew up in rural Idaho, both of my parents enjoyed the outdoors. I was encouraged to enjoy the natural beauty of the world. However, there is a big difference between enjoying nature and living in line with it. Our lifestyle was not in line with nature; it was similar to most American lifestyles. We depended on the car, used toxic household chemicals and ate meat and pesticide-drenched food. I went to a boarding school in California, Cate School. There the dichotomy was even worse. Although it was considered "liberal" we were living far outside the carrying capacity of the Earth. I'm grateful to have lived that dichotomy because it taught me the difference between beleiving in something and acting on it.
WireTap:What was the first step you took after realizing you wanted to do something about this issue?
Nadav: A week or so after the first Sierra Club meeting I attended, I met with the Sierra Club organizer, and another student who was interested in working on this campaign. Together, we drafted up a petition calling for cleaner buses. We also planned out posters that we'd hang up in our schools a week or so before we would start to circulate the petitions. The purpose of that was to raise the awareness a bit, and get people ready for, and expecting the petition.
Lacy: I met with Mr. James Graham from the San Antonio Post Office Environmental Division. He [met me in] Bandera and told me how I should approach the city and citizens for their support. I contacted Mr. Graham [after] I found out that [two local post offices] were involved in a paper recycling program.
Schaffer: : In the winter of 2000-2001 my girlfriend and I hitch-hiked all over New Zealand working on organic farms. As soon as I had experienced sustainable living first hand, I started to clearly see what needs to happen in the world. I realized the obvious fact that it is not enough to talk about sustainability, we need to practice it. For humanity to be sustainable every human, myself included, must learn the sustainable arts and implement them on a personal level. That's where I came up with the idea for OrganicVolunteers.com, a way to give everyone access to an education in sustainability, free of cost. I explained the idea to my brother, Grayson, who was learning how to build webpages and databases at the time. Within two weeks the website was up and running and we were calling organizations and networking like crazy!
WireTap:What issues do you think top the list of concerns for your generation? Is the environment one of them?
Nadav: It's hard to speak for a whole generation of people. From my vantage point, it seems like the environment is definitely a major concern. I think that there's a lot more awareness about how our modernized world affects our health, and the health of the planet. The more people know about these issues (such as pollution, global warming, etc), the more urgency there is to speak up and do something about it. I think that another big issue is tolerance. Our society is more diverse than ever, and people are having to deal with people who are different on an everyday basis. So I think that another big issue is learning to accept people who are different, and just be more tolerant in general.
Lacy: Yes, the environment is one of the concerns of my generation ... because over the years people have become so naive that the world doesn't need saving. Environmentalists and activists [are] not enough. We need to make people aware that one person can make a difference, but a hundred can make a huge difference in helping to save the world.
Schaffer: : Sex, drugs and music. What else? Maybe college, cars and money. The baby boomers do a good job controlling the minds of my generation through pop culture, mainstream media and mandatory education. There is, however, a commited group of youth who are throwing apathy by the wayside and taking action. All humans care about the environment. We all want good food to eat, air to breathe and clean water to drink. The activist youth of today are concerned about the environment and what makes them different from past youth movements is that they're seeking out hands-on experience in the application of sustainability. I've seen thousands come through OrganicVolunteers.com. They're learning about organic farming, renewable energy, natural building and they can't be stopped. The world will change; just give us time.
WireTap:What challenges did you come across in your process ? How did you solve them?
Nadav: I think the biggest challenge I came across was getting started. I had always been interested in environmentalism, but I never knew how to get involved. When I got an invitation from the Sierra Club to attend one of their meetings, I was pretty hesitant. I didn't know how they'd react to a random high school student showing up to one of their meetings. Obviously it paid off.
Lacy: The recycling company was not very supportive of my idea. [Bandera is a 70 mile round trip from San Antonio. The company was wary of committing because of extra business expenses regarding man-power and transportation.] They gave me a 30 cubic yard recycling bin for a three month pilot program. During these months Bandera had to collect the minimum tonnage [of]10 tons a month. Bandera has always exceeded the minimum tonnage.
Look for opportunities and sieze them when the arrive. I know it's not always easy, because you don't know how people will accept you, how it'll be, or what to expect, but things will fall into place, and at the end of the day (or month, or year) you'll be really happy you swallowed your pride and just took a chance.
Schaffer: : We are faced with challenges everyday. Staying positive, focused and working diligently and patiently has helped us tremendously. When we have been faced with large challenges it has often helped to seek out the right person or organization to help us with that challenge. When I wanted to build the website I went to my brother. When we needed funding we enlisted the help of our friend to write grants. When our server was getting overloaded with traffic we asked North Carolina State University to host the site. We're grateful they accepted. Making alliances and friends in the sustainability movement has helped us a great deal and most organizations have been more than willing to work with us.
WireTap:Did your work open your eyes to new issues you would like to do something about in the future?
Nadav: Definitely so! Working on the school bus diesel campaign got me much more interested in pollution issues in general...I think that working on this issue just opened my eyes to all the pollution sources around us and what havoc they wreck on the environment and on human lives. I've become a lot more interested in clean and renewable energy sources, as well as "green transportation".
Lacy: Yes, it encouraged me to show people that they can also start a paper recycling program or do something [to help the environment] in their communities. I plan to major in environmental issues when I go to college.
Schaffer: : Sustainability needs to be brought to every aspect of human life so therefore connects to all issues. The impending war in Iraq, for instance, is over the unsustainable use of oil in the United States. As always, my main job is to lead a life that respects the bounds of natural limits. I want to start an ecovillage and create a working example of how people can live together peacefully, in line with nature and with an abundance of food, water and energy. I want to show people that sustainable living can be far more prosperous, fun and beautiful than the average American lifestyle.
WireTap:What advice can you give other environmental activists in high school or college?
Nadav: Like I said before, the worst thing you can do is do nothing at all. ...Look for opportunities and sieze them when the arrive. I know it's not always easy, because you don't know how people will accept you, how it'll be, or what to expect, but things will fall into place, and at the end of the day (or month, or year) you'll be really happy you swallowed your pride and just took a chance. Another thing I think is really important to stress is that anyone, no matter how old he or she is, has the right to speak out and take action. Just because someone is too young to vote, doesn't mean that person is too young to speak his or her mind or fight to make this world a better place.
Lacy: If you have an idea go with it. You can't let people stop you from doing what is right in the world. This is the only world we have so if we don't take care of it now no one will and it will be to late to save this great place.
Schaffer: : My advice to all activists who want to make change is to first change oneself. Start on the inner level by taking a Vipassana course. Vipassana is a totally non-sectarian meditation practice to bring about peace of mind. It's free. Then gain some practical experience in sustainability by coming to Organic Volunteers and finding an opportunity that interests you. Visit as many places as possible since no farm or site is perfect. That's what I did, anyway, and it certainly got me moving down the right path.